February is one of the coldest months in Kamloops, BC. But that didn’t stop Secwépemc leaders and their supporters from coming out in the cold windy morning to drum and conduct ceremony in front of the Kamloops Court House. On February 22, six land defenders were getting ready to hear their final sentencing carried out by Judge Shelley Fitzpatrich over resisting the Transmountain Pipeline expansion project (TMX) in October 2020. Secwépemc Matriarch Miranda Dick spoke directly to the group and invited everyone to the court room to “see the acts of genocide that Canada is doing to our people.”
The trial has been ongoing since October 2020, and has been postponed several times due to COVID-19, deaths in the community, extreme weather and the general pace of the court system. The long process has also had health implications for the land defenders, with one Indigenous Matriarch collapsing in court from stress after being berated by Fitzpatrick in October 2022.
“(Fitzpatrick) has really been very hard on us,” Dick said. “The fact that we self-represented ourselves all the way up to this point has set precedent that the people can say what they need to say, and not be governed by Crown portions.”
Heather Lamoreaux was sentenced to 29 days, Susan Bibbings and Laura Zadorozny 28 days, and Romilly Cavanaugh for 32 days. Lamoreaux, Bibbings and Zadorozny accepted their sentences and are now serving time for the resistance. Cavanaugh has applied for bail.
Miranda Dick and her father Sawses were also both sentenced to 28 days in jail, however both have already appealed stating “blatant bias against Indigenous communities and in favour of TMX” by Judge Shelley Fitzpatrick. The press release by Secwépemc Say No to TMX also states that “Fitzpatrick has presided over TMX pipeline cases since 2019 and has incarcerated a long list of Indigenous people and supporters on unceded territory since.” In 2021 Fitzpatrick sentenced Indigenous land defender Stacy Gallagher to 90 days for resisting TMX on Tsleil-Waututh territory.
Resistance to stop TMX drilling under the Secwépemcetkwe (Thompson River)
The Transmountain Pipeline expansion was approved by the federal government in 2016. However, due to ongoing resistance to the project the original owner, Kinder Morgan, decided to suspend construction. In response, the federal government purchased the pipeline and continues to push it through despite opposition.
In October 2020, under the grassroots collective Secwepemc Say no to TMX, Secwépemcleaders lit a sacred fire and set up camp for 17 days on Sqeq’petsin (Missions Flat) to stop TMX from drilling underneath the Secwépemcetkwe (Thompson River). The purpose was to address their concerns with the project because it lacks consultation with the Secwépemc People and neighbouring Indigenous communities that the pipeline crosses. They also raised concerns about environmental concerns such as increasing pollution, disruption to salmon populations, negative effects on clean water, as well as cultural genocide.
On October 15th, police began arresting people at the camp. Hereditary Chief Sawses, his daughter Miranda Dick, April Thomas, and Billie Pierre were among the Indigenous land defenders arrested after the RCMP received a call from TMX security staff.
This isn’t the first camp to be set up in the area to resist the TMX project. Indigenous community members have also set up camp to resist drilling underneath the North Thompson river, near Blue River several years prior.
Prisons: the new residential school system
Hereditary Chief Sawses is 72 years old and a Kamloops Residential School (KIRS) survivor. During his hearing, he requested that the time he spent at residential school be taken into consideration as time spent in jail, as he was sentenced for 10 years at the school without doing any “crime”.
“The overall sentence of 28 days jail for a survivor of the KIRS — and all of the time, the years of time, that Sawses already served for no crime at all — we do think that should’ve been applied as a credit against any sentence imposed for the contempt of court,” said Ben Isitt, the lawyer representing Sawses (cited from Indiginews).
While Isitt was providing submissions to the court, he made note that one of the arrestees – Susan Bibbings- had helped plant 215 trees to honour the evidence of unmarked children’s graves of former “students” at KIRS, saying “their bodies had been unearthed.”
“There are no bodies,” Fitzpatrick nonchalantly replied, to which Isitt responded with “remains had been unearthed.” “They have been?” she asked him. Isitt provided a clarification, stating that remains had been identified through ground penetrating radar and he stands corrected. “Potentially,” she replied, which prompted outrage and gasps from the courtroom filled with Indigenous people.
“They have been identified,” one person shouted. “How dare you say that?” said another. “There’s no respect,” said one Indigenous woman as she promptly left the courtroom. Hereditary Matriarch April Thomas shouted “Racist!” from the courtroom, which led to a courtroom sheriff asking her to leave.
Sawses was not in the room when Fitzpatrick made those triggering comments, but he chose to appeal upon learning about her comments on the 215+ remains at KIRS. “I was pretty mad”, said Sawses when asked by an Indiginews reporter how he felt upon learning what happened. Prior to hearing the comments, Sawses was self-representing. He however chose to appeal and be represented by Isitt upon hearing the judge’s words.
According to Macleans magazine, criminologists across the country are calling prisons the new residential school system for the alarming overrepresentation of Indigenous men, women and youth in Canada’s prisons while being underrepresented in virtually every other aspect of criminal justice including the judiciary. Indigenous women have been the fastest growing prison population for over 2 decades, their incarceration numbers up 112%.
Miranda and Sawses’ appeal hopes to highlight the unfair and unjust sentences that have been the bread and butter of Fitzpatrick’s long and storied career protecting corporate interests against the health and well being of Indigenous and Black communities. The appeal will also highlight the continued acts of genocide that Indigenous people face in courts when they stand up to protect their homelands and culture from extractive industries who have no jurisdiction.
For updates and to contribute, visit Protect Sqeq’petsin Stop TMX – Trial Support
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